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Metallurgy opening newer avenues

The field of materials science and engineering has evolved out of metallurgical engineering. There’s more to it than extracting metals from ores, says Pranab Ghosh

education Updated: Mar 18, 2010 09:33 IST
Pranab Ghosh

Metallurgical engineering is the science of extracting metals from ores, processing and readying them for various uses. According to Dr Siddhartha Das, professor, department of metallurgical and materials engineering, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur, “Traditional metallurgical engineering involves a) beneficiation (crushing and separating) of ores, b) extraction of metals from ores, c) processing of these metals to make alloys with desired properties for engineering applications d) giving them (alloys) useful/proper shape and size for engineering applications and e) evaluating their properties and to further improve upon them.”

The formal study of metallurgical engineering in India dates back to “1923, when Banaras Hindu University started a graduate programme,” says Dr S Prakash, scientist, National Metallurgical Laboratory, Jamshedpur, which is under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). “The setting up of the first steel plant in India by JN Tata in 1907 had necessitated the study of metallurgical engineering in the country,” Dr Prakash adds.

The scope of metallurgical engineering is broad and it “overlaps many other faculties of science and technology, such as physics, chemistry, mechanical engineering, mining, thermal science, etc,” points out Tanmay Bhattacharyya, a metallurgical engineer and researcher, product research group, R&D, Tata Steel, Jamshedpur. Prof Das agrees. “Young students believe that metallurgy means only extraction of metals. Actually, it is more of physics than chemistry.

Many great physicists, including Nobel laureates like the late Prof. John Bardeen (through his research) contributed immensely to this field.” According to Prof Das, many research instruments that are routinely used by metallurgists have evolved from physics laboratories. “If you love physics and chemistry, you will definitely love metallurgy,” he points out.

There are different branches of metallurgical engineering. “Broadly speaking, these are: mineral processing; extractive metallurgy; physical metallurgy; metal forming; casting; powder metallurgy; fuel refractory and furnaces, etc,” says Dr Prakash. “Subjects of material science such as nano-technology and bio-processing have increased the scope of metallurgical engineering,” he adds.

The demand for skilled metallurgical engineers is rising in the country. “India is going to produce 200 million tonnes of steel by 2020; therefore, the scope (of work) of a metallurgical engineer here is huge,” says Dr Prakash. Prof Das, who says there are adequate numbers of skilled metallurgical engineers in India, agrees. “The need for engineers is increasing because of the many steel plants and research and development laboratories coming up in India,” he says.

Many opportunities are being created today for the engineers. Apart from working in steel plants and the non-ferrous (aluminum, copper, zinc, etc) industry, they can work in research institutions like CSIR, regional research laboratories, in defence (production) and research or as faculty in IITs and other engineering colleges.

And as for the challenges — “reduction of energy consumption in metal production and developing green technologies, besides conserving scarce resources through waste utilisation,” are the major concerns of the industry, says Dr Prakash.

What's it about?
Metallurgy is one of the oldest sciences that deals with metals and their application. The word metallurgy has a Greek origin: metallon (metal) and ourgia (working). Metallurgical engineering deals with the extraction of metals from their ores, purifying them and shaping them for practical use. This subject includes physical and chemical properties of metals, their atomic and crystalline structure, mineral beneficiation, and structure-property relationship.

Metallurgy has two major divisions: extractive or process metallurgy and physical or alloy metallurgy. The first involves extracting metals out from their ores and refining them. It includes a wide variety of specialised commercial processes such as mineral dressing, roasting, sintering, smelting, leaching, electrolysis, and amalgamation. Physical metallurgy is about adapting metals for their final use and improving their performance

Clock Work
For those into research and teaching:
6 to 8 am: Study/read
8.30 am to 11.30 am: Take class/do some research work
11.45 am to 1.45 pm: Prepare class notes, write papers/ analyse data
2 pm: Quick lunch
3 to 4 pm: Go the the library and read up on research work again
5 pm: Call it a day

For those in the industry (middle management):
9 am: Get morning feedback from plant; note production figures
10 am: Morning meeting with superior and subordinates
11.30 am: Do quality assurance and related work; study requests for developmental jobs
1 pm: Quick lunch
2 pm to 3.30 pm: Shop floor visit/ safety related visit
4 pm: Interact with customers
6 pm: Leave for home

The Payoff
. Entry level: Around Rs 40,000 a month
. Middle level: Around Rs 1,00,000 a month
. Senior level: Sky is the limit
Someone in the teaching profession would, however, earn less (than the salaries above) — at the three levels

. Knowledge of experimental techniques, operational features of sophisticated instruments
. Analytical ability
. Be good at basic science (physics, chemistry, mathematics and geology)
. Ability to take prompt decisions
. Patience and capacity for work hard

How do i get there?
You should take up physics, chemistry and mathematics at the plus two level and clear the IIT-Joint Entrance Examination after Class XII. You have to then complete a four-year degree programme in metallurgical engineering, which is conducted by some IITs, NITs and other engineering colleges or a five- year dual degree — BTech and MTech together — offered by these IITs/engineering institutes. After graduation, you can go for postgraduation and then PhD/research

Institutes & urls
IIT Kharagpur
. IIT, Mumbai
. IIT, Kanpur
. IIT, Madras
. IIT, Roorke
. Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi
. Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore (only post-graduate degree)
. Bengal Engineering and Science University, Shibpur

Pros & cons
. Hands-on engineering with scope of diversifying into industry, academia and research work
. Variety in work — from the nano level (real small materials) to the giga level (steel structure)
. Wide scope of learning as the subject is interdisciplinary
. It is not a desk job
. Requires hard work
. It’s a hazardous and polluting industry

Pollution control is a challenge

A senior teacher talks about the opportunities and challenges for engineers

What is the scope of work for metallurgical engineers in India and abroad?
It is excellent in India and abroad. Metallurgical engineers can work in the metal producing industry, automobile and consumer goods industries to research labs working on the development of materials for aerospace and nuclear applications.

What have been the landmark developments in metallurgical engineering that have changed the world for good?
The field of materials science and engineering has evolved out of metallurgical engineering. A metallurgical engineer nowadays ventures out to other fields such as ceramics, composites, electronic materials and sometime polymers. One needs to reorient himself/ herself according to the opportunity ahead.

What are the challenges before the profession today?
The major challenges for metallurgical engineers today are control of industrial pollution and minimising power consumption and other costs in the industry.

Who are the leading employers — in India and globally?
Steel plants in India along with many other metal (nonferrous) industries employ metallurgical engineers. Many Indian students opt for a career in atomic energy, space research and defence research. Others go for higher studies, both in India and abroad, which prepare them for a career in research laboratories and academia.

What are the top five institutes in India, according to you, imparting training in metallurgical engineering?
IITs like Kharagpur, Bombay, Madras, Kanpur, and Roorkee, Banaras Hindu University, and Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore (only PG degree).

Professor Siddhartha Das Interviewed by Pranab Ghosh